HomeTeamsAstrosBetter Times Ahead For The Astros’ Back-End Of The Bullpen

Better Times Ahead For The Astros’ Back-End Of The Bullpen

The Astros’ back-end of the bullpen came into the 2024 season hyped as MLB’s best. Early predictions stated that Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly, and new free-agent signing Josh Hader were going to dominate hitters, resulting in many Astros victories. If teams were going to win games against the Astros, they were going to have to score all their runs in the first six innings. As the seventh inning approached, they weren’t going to get any scoring opportunities once Houston’s three-headed monster came into close out games. However, that has not been true for the Astros this year. The bullpen as a unit has struggled mightily thus far, and Abreu, Pressly, and Hader’s struggles lead the way. Though, for these three, over the course of the last three weeks, it looks like the tide may be turning.

As a unit, the Astros’ bullpen has gotten off to a terrible start. They hold the AL’s fifth-worst ERA (4.64) and third-worst WHIP (1.42). Also, they have allowed the fourth-most walks (54), fourth-most runs (71), and third-most hits (114) in the AL. From the seventh inning on, Astros’ relievers have posted a 4.19 ERA with a 1.52 WHIP. Not only that, they’re last in the majors in saves with 2, and hold a 1-8 record in one-run games. (In comparison, the lowly White Sox have a 3-8 record in one-run games.)

Bryan Abreu had a rough start to the season after sitting out the first two games due to hitting Texas Rangers’ outfielder Adolis Garcia with a pitch during Game 5 of the 2023 ALCS. During his first six games he gave up six runs, and let up eight hits, including three home runs. Opponents hit .333/.448/.708 over this stretch. While opposing hitters were reaching base a ton against Abreu at the start of the season, he gave up all six runs in just two appearances. During his first game of the year at home against the New York Yankees, he allowed three runs on two hits (both home runs) and two walks, getting the loss. During his sixth appearance on the road against the Kansas City Royals, he gave up three runs on two hits (including a home run) and a walk in a blow-out 13-3 loss.

However, he’s pitching much better as of late, with only one earned run allowed in his last nine appearances; this accounts for a 0.90 ERA in that span. Abreu allowed his lone run when he gave up a go-ahead, two-run home run to Chicago Cubs’ centerfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong on Thursday, April 25th. (The other earned run got charged to Rafael Montero, who allowed Cubs’ catcher Miguel Amaya to reach on a fielder’s choice earlier in the inning. Though Abreu gave up the home run, Montero was charged with the loss.) However, despite losing the game for the ‘Stros in Chicago, in this nine-game stretch, Abreu’s season ERA has dropped from 8.10 to 4.02.In his last ten innings of work, Abreu has struck out 15 batters, walked 6, and given up 6 hits. He has a 1-0 record and four holds in that span. Finally, he’s recorded multiple strikeouts in six of his last seven appearances.

After being the Astros’ closer for the past four seasons, Ryan Pressly got off to a bumpy start as a set-up man for closer Josh Hader. During his first six games, Pressly gave up six earned runs on nine hits, including one homer. He struck out seven and walked two batters in 4 and ⅔ innings. His worst outing came on April 6th, as he came into pitch the bottom of the eighth against the Texas Rangers, with the Rangers leading 3-2. Tasked with keeping their in-state rivals in check so the Astros could have a chance to win the game in the ninth, Pressly unraveled after striking out his first batter. He allowed five consecutive hits and four runs (including a run scored on a wild pitch). Taylor Scott had to come in the game to finish the eighth inning, but by then the damage was done. Houston ended up losing that game 7-2, falling to 2-7 on the year.

During his last eight games however, Pressly has pitched great, only allowing four runs (including two earned runs). His season ERA has fallen from a season-high of 20.25 on April 6th to 5.68 currently. Over his last eight innings, he has struck out thirteen and only walked two batters, while allowing seven hits. However, during this stretch, he’s also gotten two blown saves (during identical 5-4 losses to the Atlanta Braves at home and the Washington Nationals on the road) and only one hold. The two blown saves have been the only games in which he’s allowed runs during this span.

Manager Joe Espada’s big problem has been getting his three best relievers to pitch in high leverage situations. Most of the Astros’ games have been blow outs thus far. They’re 6-8 in games decided by five or more runs, allowing 80 runs in that span. Closer Josh Hader has only pitched in two save situations, converting both opportunities. Eight of his thirteen appearances have come in Astros losses. This is not the ideal situation the Astros anticipated when signing Hader to a five-year, $95 million deal this offseason.

Throughout Hader’s first six games, he allowed four earned runs on five hits, including one home run. He struck out seven batters, while issuing three walks. He allowed runs in half of his appearances. Hader’s worst game came on April 2nd at home as he let up a go-ahead two-run home run to Toronto Blue Jays’ left fielder Davis Schneider with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. Hader got tagged with a blown save and the loss.

Nonetheless, Hader is slowly putting together better outings. In his last seven games, he’s let up eight hits and six earned runs, while only walking three and striking out thirteen batters. On the year, he has a 6.39 ERA and 1.5 WHIP. However, during this last stretch of games, Hader allowed the majority of his runs in one outing, as he let up four runs in a 6-1 home loss to the Atlanta Braves. In that appearance, he also gave up four hits and one walk. Most notably, he pitched two innings in his last appearance, a 10-9 extra-inning walk-off win at home against the Cleveland Guardians. He hadn’t pitched more than one inning in a game since he pitched 1 and ⅓ innings against the Chicago Cubs in a 4-3 win as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. According to an article by Houston Chronicle writer, Matt Kawahara, Hader said the following about pitching multiple innings this year: “Obviously, we need to win ballgames, right? And I think with me having a long resting period leading into this series, I mean, it made sense. And then, obviously, I felt good enough to go for the second inning. I think that was the biggest thing. This year, my expectations were to be able to be available for multiple innings.”

All in all, the Astros’ back-end of the bullpen, as well as the team itself, may be headed for greener pastures. Buoyed by a two-game sweep in Mexico City against the Colorado Rockies, Houston has won four of its last five games. This includes their first one-run victory of the year, the walk-off 10-9 back-and-forth affair against the Cleveland Guardians this past Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether Abreu, Pressly, and Hader can continue to pitch better, though it appears these three are on their way to becoming the three-headed monster the Astros envisioned when signing Hader this offseason.


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